Many Americans of all political stripes consider the heated level of political rhetoric to be harmful to our country, and the recognition that we’re very divided is not generally seen as a good thing. Yet I think we often fail to see the reason why there is seemingly more division. We blame the 24 hour news cycle, increased partisanship by those evil Republicans/Democrats (take your pick), or loss of cultural civility. Certainly all of those factors weigh into what is happening. But I’d also argue that a significant reason is simply the growth of government, and not simply because half the country sees government action as a solution to our problems while the other half of the country sees government as a source of problems.
If we take a step back and then about the nature of government action, it will be clearer. While progressives believe that government is “what we do together,” others rightly understand the government is what we force each other to do. We cannot separate the reality that activities outside of government are based on voluntary association, whereas government at the end, has the point of a gun. The distinction that progressives make, that “we’re in favor of communal action,” whereas conservatives believe in a “rugged individualism” which will leave you on your own, is patently false. Conservatives and libertarians love communal activities, when they are voluntary. There are any number of civic and religious groups that tackle collective issues. The essential difference between the two world views is not individual vs. collective, but between voluntary and coerced, and that makes all the difference in the world when we think about social tolerance.
When we expand the size and especially the scope of government, we are increasing the areas where people no longer can behave according to the dictates of their own conscience. Instead, we must drown out all diversity of thought and action. This is not a call for no government–government is a minister of God for good. We need the government to have tax revenue to fund legitimate government activities (such as defense, police, judicial system). Yet this is a recognition that when the government steps into an area, it is ultimately with a gun. When government grows, liberty necessarily shrinks. Just consider two of the more recent progressive victories. The Affordable Care Act gave us the Obama Administration’s attack on the Little Sisters of the Poor. And even before Obergfell, progressives were able to destroy the livelihoods of bakers who would not “bake the cake.”* The important point on both of these issues is that birth control and wedding cakes are widely available to all sorts of people; but the progressive left cannot tolerate that anyone would be allowed to think and act differently than they do. If they want to think and act differently than us, we will do our best to destroy them.
No one argues that progressives shouldn’t have the right to convince me to think differently, but should they have the right to take away my livelihood? Or force me to compromise my beliefs to support their agenda, such as California’s new law forcing crisis pregnancy centers to inform clients about abortion? As government grows, so does intolerance, and this is not a good thing.
* Prayers needed for Barronelle Stutzman, the Oregon baker who has one more shot with the U.S. Supreme Court to overcome this intolerant injustice.